The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Officially At Peace: Reflections On The Army And Its Role In Troubled Waters By Shankar Roychowdhury, Viking, Rs 495

This book is a sort of self-assessment by General Shankar Roychowdhury, who took over as the army chief of staff after the death of his predecessor in late 1994.

The immediate problem which Roychowdhury faced after occupying the top slot was the threat posed by counter-insurgency. Isolation of the high command from the lower level commanders at a crucial stage in the battle was one of the factors that led to the disintegration of the American army in Vietnam. To avoid such segregation, Roychowdhury made it a point to interact with the regimental officers. When some of the officers complained that the infantry was suffering from combat fatigue as a result of continous operations against insurgents, Roychowdhury reduced the tenure of the infantry battalions operating in insurgency prone areas from three to two years.

Roychowdhury rightly asserts that action against such unconventional opponents involves small teams, lead by junior commanders who have to respond quickly and effectively to a rapidly changing scenario. Therefore, the lieutenants and majors leading such teams have to display much more flexibility and initiative than their counterparts engaged in a conventional war. Despite opposition from some quarters in the army, Roychowdhury was in favour of devolving more autonomy and responsibility to the juniors .

Roychowdhury is hinting at what in German military parlance is known as auftragstraktik, which literally means a decentralized command set up. The assumption is that in the heat of the battle communications between the higher command and the junior officers may be severed. Then those commanding at the lower end must think and act for themselves within the format of a general mission laid down by the high command. Like their Western counterparts, several Indian generals have in their memoirs pointed out the necessity of using auftragstaktik. Given Roychowdhury’s vast experience, he was in a position to implement this radical plan. However, he remains silent on the extent of his success on this issue.

His tenure also saw the introduction of the much vaunted Arjun tanks in the army. Despite unfavourable media reports, Roychowdhury states that Arjun delivered the performance required from it.

Unlike other military officers, who have the tendency of blaming politicians for all ills, Roychowdhury points out the limitations of the armed forces in matters military. He also refrains from criticizing his fellow commanders in his frank appraisal of the military situation in the subcontinent.

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